REVIEW – After more than 20 years of anticipation, Baldur’s Gate finally returns! The new installment awaits self-proclaimed adventurers with a vast game world, rich story, and exciting characters. Adapting to the complex systems of Baldur’s Gate 3 may seem daunting at first, but once you understand them, your gaming experience will be truly unforgettable. Baldur’s Gate 3’s intricate yet exciting gameplay, stunning graphics, and myriad in-game choices have made it a favorite among fans and new players alike. You don’t need to roll the D&D dice to see that Baldur’s Gate III could be a serious contender for the Game of the Year title.
Almost three years have passed since Larian Studios announced that the Early Access version of Baldur’s Gate 3 would soon be in the hands of adventure-hungry fans. The news only fueled fan excitement, and the highly anticipated debut of the trilogy’s third installment only strengthened the RPG genre’s standing in the gaming community. The full release of Baldur’s Gate 3 opens a new chapter in the franchise’s history, offering players an incredible amount of content, opportunities, and choices in a gameplay experience that never lets up.
Virtual D&D with friends
The developers at Larian Studios have put so much effort into incorporating Dungeons & Dragons systems directly into the game that it sometimes feels like we are playing virtual D&D with our friends. While the game may not surpass the real-life D&D experience for most users, its complexity and sense of adventure come very close to the original. After all, Dungeons & Dragons has always been a game of numbers. Whether it’s skills, attacks, damage, armor dodge, magic damage, or carrying weight, math is everywhere, and interactions with the imaginary world are almost all determined by dice rolls. The numbers are generally extremely important, but some Dungeon Masters keep the experience in mind and are willing to overlook or ignore bad rolls just to keep the game exciting. While the actual D&D rules are constantly changing, the numbers almost always play a central role.
Though this isn’t necessarily obvious in Baldur’s Gate 3, it sometimes feels like the dice are always deciding victory or defeat at the most critical moments. Baldur’s Gate 3 is not afraid to use and present the same numbers that we find in the real D&D game. Levels, spell costs, movement distances, damage bonuses, race bonuses, passive trials, and more – the list of systems driven by numbers is long, and Baldur’s Gate 3 takes advantage of them.
Fans and haters
Baldur’s Gate 3’s systems will have fans and detractors alike, and the gray area between the two extremes seems to be very thin. Some love the complexity and enjoy seeing how the systems react in different ways to their character’s decisions. Others find it intimidating or downright boring to have to constantly monitor changing numbers when all they want to know is whether a particular item is better than what they currently have. Yes, each weapon has a potential damage range and armor has a defense value, but there are weaknesses associated with certain weapon types or items that make the learning process a bit more difficult. Larian Studios has tried to simplify this, but it will take a lot of trial and error to fully understand how things work.
However, if users commit to learning the various systems, they will be rewarded with a video game experience that is rare in the current gaming market. BG3 is a game that can be incredibly overwhelming at first because of the flood of information that comes at you from the very first moment. It is rare to experience a game that does not hold your hand from the beginning. This genre likes to explain every single step of the systems in a tutorial that could often be shorter. Baldur’s Gate 3 does have an introductory level, but the tutorial elements are extremely minimal and almost nonexistent throughout most of the game.
A variety of colorful, exciting teammates and other characters
Fortunately, Baldur’s Gate 3 also offers many allies, including characters and creatures that only assist the player for a short time. Some of these allies’ abilities work randomly during combat, but almost all of them have unique personalities that make them memorable. The game does an excellent job of creating characters that we really care about. Although this can seem clichéd and boring in RPGs, some characters who join the adventure become truly memorable. It’s hard not to reveal the stories of various characters without discussing them a bit, but some will affect the player’s emotional level in such a way that they stay with us even after the game is over.
The memorable nature of Baldur’s Gate 3’s characters is further enhanced by the game’s excellent voice acting. Only one or two characters came across as a bit dull during testing. Considering the number of characters in the game, it’s surprising how few disappointments there were.
This includes an aspect that D&D players either love or hate: a narrator who acts as a sort of dungeon master, or at least serves as their voice. For longtime D&D fans, this is pleasant and enjoyable to hear. The narrator flits seamlessly in and out of various scenes and interactions in a way that never seems to disrupt your immersion in the game. What they say is high-quality, informative, and occasionally genuinely funny. They fit so naturally into the gameplay that many may not even notice them.
If it’s a battle you want, you’ve got it!
As for the battles, they are a revamped version of the classic turn-based format. Whoever spots the other party first initiates combat, and turn order determines who fights when. Players command their teams, allies, and any accompanying NPCs. Depending on the number of combatants, enemy turns can last as long as 30 seconds, or even several minutes as alerted enemies make their way to the battlefield. Battles can be time consuming, but that doesn’t mean they’re boring. Baldur’s Gate III encourages players to take their time to assess enemies and their surroundings. Oh, didn’t I mention that? The environment is filled with hazards that players can interact with during their turn or activate before the battle begins.
One of the most critical aspects of combat is choosing the right position. In BG3, players have a lot of freedom, so they usually find ways to use the environment to their advantage in combat. Throw an enemy off the edge of a cliff, or my favorite, lure enemies to your mage, teleport them to safety, then throw a fireball at the hidden oil barrel for a spectacular triple slaughter.
I did encounter some control issues during combat sequences, with instances where enemies would “announce” their spells and the camera would linger on them for a long time before they finally acted. Or when I told one of my team members to go to a certain location, they ignored all my commands and did nothing until I ended their turn. Bugs are to be expected in such a massive game. These didn’t ruin the experience, but I felt it was important to mention.
Outside of combat, the game has a lot of excitement to offer. While navigating the large open world can be tedious at times, the interiors are intricately designed and often reward the player for zooming in and searching every bottle-filled table for drinks, keys, and hastily written letters. The level of detail in the world is impressive, and the artists at Larian Studios deserve many a beer for the artificially created pubs, dungeons, and goblin catacombs.
This brings us to Baldur’s Gate 3’s graphics, which are stunning and detailed. The game uses the Divinity: Original Sin 2 engine, but it has been significantly enhanced and optimized. The lighting, shadows, reflections, and textures all contribute to the creation of a magical and lifelike world. The characters’ facial expressions, body language, and movements also feel very natural, helping to convey emotion and personality.
Battle scenes are dynamic and spectacular, with different spells and abilities providing unique visual effects. The environments in the game are diverse and awe-inspiring, ranging from dark, oppressive caves to lush forests and massive cities. The graphics are not only beautiful, but also functional, often influencing gameplay. For example, using a height advantage can give you a better view and attack accuracy, or interacting with environmental elements can reveal new paths or hidden secrets. The graphics in Baldur’s Gate 3 are worthy of the legendary series and will captivate players.
Of course, Baldur’s Gate 3 wouldn’t be complete without multiplayer. The game offers online, LAN, and local co-op play. When playing with friends, players can share control of each other’s characters. For this to work, however, users must play together and start a new game with the host to select a preset character. If they join after the game has started, they have to create their own character. Fortunately, the game provides levels so that later joiners can catch up to the host.
The game is also tied to the host’s save file, so the host’s friends will have to be on time and not spend too much time reading the text if they really want to complete the campaign. It’s certainly a nice thing to play with real companions, but if everyone’s reading speed varies too much, someone will eventually get impatient. Most players don’t mind essentially playing four D&D characters at once, but the cooperative mode eases the burden in a way that is liberating. The single-player experience also has its own unique charm, as every decision and its consequences, every opportunity is in the player’s hands, and every outcome is the player’s own reward.
Craft your hero your way
Baldur’s Gate 3 is not stingy with the options it gives players in the game, and that includes the customizable character creator. A myriad of hairstyles, makeup, and race-specific traits can be varied in a variety of ways. There are eleven basic races to choose from, including some D&D fan favorites like Tieflings and Drow, many of which have sub-races with different abilities.
Then there are the twelve different classes, some of which have subclasses that can significantly alter your play style. One example is the Paladin subclass, which can change the way players approach certain situations depending on the nature of the character’s religion. Then there are the eleven character backgrounds, some of which provide bonuses in certain situations, while others boost base stats.
Finally, there is the classic D&D stat sheet, where players allocate points to various abilities, affecting everything from damage rolls to the speech bonuses that come with higher charisma stats. All of this can be information overload for many, but for those who persevere and master each one, the in-depth knowledge can lead to a variety of gameplay styles.
A Century After Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn
After all that, the game immediately drops players into a familiar world, more than a century after the events of Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn. Players wake up on a Mindflayer ship, a disgusting sci-fi horror flying vehicle that can make people disappear with a single touch and then reappear in organic capsules for experimentation. This includes the player’s character, and from this point on, players begin to influence the world around them as they progress through their adventure. The full release of the game has been a long time coming, and the new content generally seems better and more polished than the limited adventure of the early access version. The game will undoubtedly be compared to its predecessors, and some critics may find that the main storyline does not deliver the same excitement as previous creations. However, the game makes up for the shortcomings of the campaign with the variety and sheer quantity of side quests.
There’s so much to do in each area that it’s easy to get sidetracked from the main storyline, especially considering the size of the game world in the full release. It may seem silly to complain about having too much to do, but choice overload can sometimes be a headache for players. It’s hard to even describe how much players can do at any given time, let alone if someone were crazy enough to try to complete every quest in the game. The complexity of the systems has helped to create a huge amount of discoverable and explorable content, and the ability to make a good or bad decision in almost any situation allows for such diverse gameplay styles that players can feel the same choice overload if they don’t force themselves to focus on one mission at a time.
The other negatives of the game are mostly minor design decisions that are just annoying to the user, but do not drastically affect the game itself. I’m thinking of things like always having to load a dialogue scene even if the characters have nothing to say to each other, or after all dialogue options have been exhausted. This breaks the seamless flow of the game for a short time, which can be annoying in the long run. Some crashes have also occurred during character leveling, as the game switches to character-specific screens instead of staying in the game world during the leveling process. This happens even when the player does not have to make a decision about the character’s development, such as choosing new spells.
There is also an option to hold down a button that will display most of the loot scattered around the area, and this is so basic when searching for small items that players could even tape it down so as not to miss anything. None of these, except the random freezes, cause fatal errors in the game, but these are the most noticeable issues that break the immersion and abruptly stop the gameplay. Others don’t like the turn-based combat, finding it too slow or drawn out, but Baldur’s Gate games have always been about making deliberate choices, and forcing more snap decisions and turning the game into an action-packed adventure like Dark Souls would be too radical a change. BG3 does, however, give you the option to set multiple camera views, swooping low like an action game, or soaring high to give a more tactical view. This is a nice change of pace, but it can also be annoying, as the rotating camera can cause targeting problems when walking through doors.
A real gem
Baldur’s Gate 3 is a true treasure. It may seem complicated at first glance, but if you take the time to get to know it and immerse yourself in it, it’s worth every moment – I highly recommend it even to casual gamers. It’s full of soul, has a unique style, and you can feel the years of work from a studio that is passionate about the source material. The enormous size of the game and the countless content hidden within it reflect Larian Studios’ commitment and passion for the game, providing players with an impressive experience. The incorporation of various D&D systems into the game is nearly flawless, and the combination of computation and storytelling is a pairing that surpasses most other RPGs. Baldur’s Gate 3 is high quality and wildly entertaining, and it may be the game that fans old and new can agree on: this is a very special experience.
+ Amazing detail, complexity, freedom
+ Stunning visuals, professional voice acting
+ Almost complete D&D simulation
– Some annoying camera glitches
– Bugs during battles
– Might be too complex for some
Publisher: Larian Studios
Developer: Larian Studios
Release: August 3, 2023.